Tempo de Leitura: 4 minutos
by FRANCISCO PAIVA JR.
of ‘Revista Autismo’
(free Brazilian magazine on autism, printed and digital)
Apple held its first session exclusively for autistic people in the United States last Friday, September 23, in the so-called “Today at Apple”, a kind of quick workshop on various topics concerning the use of technology and, of course, Apple products. The event occurred in partnership with the Autism Tree Project Foundation which serves autistic people and their families in San Diego, California.
The session was made possible after a Brazilian suggestion for the biggest Apple Store in San Diego, at Fashion Valley Mall. After sessions for autistic people in Brazil, the last one in August, the idea arrived in California and with the assistance of the Autism Tree, let autistic people have the chance to participate in the event carefully prepared by Apple store’s employees and led by the creative Tracy Cornish.
The story behind the achievement
I rarely write stories in first person. In this case, I believe it is necessary. There are only two Apple stores in Brazil, one in Rio and one in São Paulo. At the end of 2017, the Sao Paulo store somehow found the “aMAis” group, aimed at supporting autistic families and led by the tireless mother Tatiana Ksenhuk. She recommended me to help Apple organize the first session for autistic people in Brazil, which took place on November 12, 2017, run by the great Gabriel Basilio, whose work was impeccable (see my report on that event here, in Portuguese or a version translated by Google here). The inspiration came from the UK, from an Apple Store in West London that a few months before had turned a mother’s request for an exclusive session for autistics into reality. Employees from Apple Brazil heard about that accomplishment and decided to hold a similar inclusive action, starting from São Paulo.
In Brazil, there were several sessions for autistics between 2017 and 2019, some of them were closed-door sessions in the morning, before the store opened. That was to avoid visual and sound stimuli due to the hypersensitivity of many autistics. That also added all the advantages of an empty store, which is very unusual in Apple Stores around the world. The pandemic came, everything stopped. We resumed at the end of last month with a new closed-door session.
At that time I was getting ready to come to San Diego for a one-month course, so I went to Gabriel Basílio and his team at Apple Brazil and suggested: “Why not do the same in California, Apple’s ‘home’? Too bold?” The answer was an immediate “Let’s try!”. There wasn’t much time for planning, nor for “protocol” contacts. So I thought I should go to the store and try to convince them in person. That’s what I did, on the first few days I arrived in California I talked to Louie at the Apple Store of the biggest mall in town, Fashion Valley, he was one of those responsible for the sessions. I showed him the work we’ve been doing in Brazil, the photos of the last session with autistic people and I got his “Yes!” as an answer. Woohoo! I immediately told Dayna Kay Hoff, Executive Director of the Autism Tree foundation about the confirmation, and she was extremely excited and surprised by the achievement. “Let’s do this as soon as possible”, she exclaimed.
The session, organized by Rebecca Barron of Autism Tree, was a success. There was even a waiting list for an upcoming event, due to so many families who registered. Everyone was very engaged in the activities and liked the session outcome. They isolated an area of the store with tapes to make the participants more comfortable and everyone left the event very happy. I am proud of having been the bridge to connect Apple San Diego to Autism Tree. So the seed was sown for more to come, and they have already started planning the upcoming session exclusively for autistics — maybe this could spread to other locations in the US and around the world! Who knows?
Apple + Autism
Apple has always been a company ahead of its time when it comes to accessibility for people with disabilities. It has one of the best voice over for blind people as well as several features for those with little mobility or movement restriction, among other technologies. For autism, the company has already carried out several initiatives such as the Guided Access feature, explicitly made for autistics, launched in 2012 at WWDC, the company’s biggest annual event. In 2017 field trips to its stores were promoted for 12-year-old students and in the month of acceptance of ASD a page with apps aimed at autism featured the accessibility of its products in major events, such as Dylan’s Voice video, the story of a boy using an iPad to communicate in 2016. But an exclusive “Today at Apple” session for autistics I still haven’t found records of having happened in the United States. This was the first. A first of many more to come, as the Autism Tree Project Foundation is now connected to the Apple Store San Diego with the promise of holding more sessions and increasingly inclusive ones.
The big picture is that a London mother detected the need, a group from Brazil managed to reproduce it and now the idea migrated from outside of the US to Apple’s home. For me, it was another amazing experience that I witnessed in the world of autism. Of course there is still a long way to go in this area, but it is really a bliss to witness the world steps in becoming more and more inclusive. Also, society and companies are increasingly aware and responsible. Step by step.
See more photos taken from the session below. And also my videos on my Instagram (@Paivajunior) and on Revista Autismo (@RevistaAutismo) in Portuguese, during and right after the event. And another one in English, with Rebecca Barrom from Autism Tree.
[av_gallery ids=’12475,12474,12473,12472,12471,12470,12469,12468′ style=’big_thumb’ preview_size=’portfolio’ crop_big_preview_thumbnail=’avia-gallery-big-crop-thumb’ thumb_size=’portfolio’ columns=’4′ imagelink=’lightbox’ link_dest=” lightbox_text=’caption’ lazyload=’avia_lazyload’ img_scrset=” html_lazy_loading=’disabled’ alb_description=” id=” custom_class=” template_class=” av_uid=’av-m4ftjm’ sc_version=’1.0′ admin_preview_bg=”]